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Thursday, 20 May 2010

B Comes to Stay for a While

Well folks - these photos are from November - seven months ago when B flew in for the weekend and we took him up to Hautacam well before there was any snow or any winter either.
John made a trip to the Internet Cafe and got the photos posted. We will add words to them as and when we can. We are sorry to have left you so long without news and our blog.
Here we are in summer after a warm April and a slow wet start to May. The mountains are again covered with snow but the ski season is over even though John tried to stretch it out as much as he could!
In the winter we took J and small T up to Hautacam in a scary white-out. Rather a mistake - but John, J and T did get some better skiing later that week.
Then Hautacam literally blew away in a storm and John had to go skiing at Cauterets.
Here however you see us with B, the mountains and then the Napoleon Bridge dreamed up by the Empress Eugenie (wife of Napoleon III) because it was in such a spectacular situation. B is wearing a shirt rather superfluously asking you to mind the gap which can be seen to his right and which more reckless people than we are attempt to fleetingly fill by leaping from the bridge on bungees.

Oh, by the way the "A l'Amethyste" shop is displayed here as she is seldom far from our thoughts and because it is a shop in Lourdes - which we visited with B - selling gaudy trinkets such as madonnas in a snowstorm, flashy plastic crosses etc. likely to appeal to religious nutters, cynics and magpies. There are many such in Lourdes. (Shops, not magpies)

Raising the Roof


At the time of writing (23/05/10), this is just a taster of this Post since the second photo will reveal all and this first one reveals nowt. This is a photo of me about to strike the first blow in the creation of the dormer window in our bedroom (I can now say "main bedroom"), giving views of the garden, wildlfe pond (WOW!)- see "Lake and Mountain", below -, barbecue (CRIPES!), swimming pool *(SHEESH!) and Pyrenees (DOUBLE WOW!).

* The "swimming pool" is a slight exaggeration.

Lake and Mountain

The Departement of Hautes Pyrenees is an area of mountains and lakes. Well, that's not wholly true. Most of the highest mountains of the Pyrenees are in the Departement, but the topography does not lend itself to lakes. In addition, the part where we live is quite flat. To partly remedy the deficiency, Ruth decided that we needed a pond - and despite the River Adour being within hearing distance in time of spate, like now when the mountain snow is melting. So I dug a hole. Quite a big hole.

The first picture shows our water butt containing the first 1000 litres (450 gallons) of rainwater which went into the hole. This was followed by approximately 8000 litres from the well.

The excavation of the pit yielded a fair amount of spoil which was wheeled away to the top of the garden to produce Mont Labatut, the highest point (arguably) in the village. The third photo shows me atop Mont Labatut with a drink and the cats enjoying the fruit of our labours. The last two photos show Ruth doing likewise. Since the pictures were taken, Ruth has spent a lot of time (and money) embellishing Lac Labatut with a flagstone edging, waterplants and fish.

Saving Private SKB - A Tale of Two Stations

In World War II, the Nazis developed V weapons ("V" for Velgeltungswaffen = revenge weapons) for use against the UK and advancing allied forces. In 2009, the Icelanders, having borrowed zillions of Pounds and Euros to buy European businesses, were asked to pay the lenders back. Iceland held a referendum and voted not to repay its debts. Not only that, but they invented their own revenge V weapon - "V" for volcano.

SKB, Ruth's grandson, had gone to Zambia to visit his grandfather. On his way back the Icelanders unleashed their volcanic ash weapon. The flight, which should have transited at Nairobi and Amsterdam, petered out in a series of hops at Cairo, Istanbul and Rome before coming to a standstill at Milan. Ashen-faced, SKB erupted. "I'll soldier on by train", he exploded. But the Icelanders were too wily for him. "Ekki svo fljótur , Persónulegur SKB" (Not so fast, Private SKB) they snarled, and snarling thus they flourished their Doomsday Machine - yes, the French railway union went on strike, blocking all exits from Italy. What was SKB to do? Fortunately in a sleepy French village only a few hundred miles away John and Ruth were sitting around with nothing to do but attend a choir rehearsal. Selflessly, they tore themselves away from "Lullaby of Birdland", "Le Loup, Le Renard et La Belette" and drove towards Italy. SKB, meanwhile, had set off by Italian train to Turin and eventually to Ventimiglia, close to the French border. John and Ruth stopped overnight at Aix-en-Provence and collected SKB from Italy the next day. Their plan was to drive to the Channel and see SKB safely aboard a ferry. However, during the course of the drive, they guessed that it might be possible to get a high speed train at Avignon, allowing SKB to reach the Channel in time to catch an overnight ferry. Such proved to be the case. SKB travelled non-stop to Paris, raced across town for a local train and got to the port with minutes to spare. John and Ruth returned home, as they say tired but happy, having covered 1540 km in 27 hours with 5 hours' sleep and no meals.

Have at you, Icelanders! Anyone for Oscars?

(More text follows pictures)

The pictures show SKB with John and Ruth at Avignon and the entrance of Ventimiglia station. Ventimiglia is the station used by residents of Monte Carlo. Whilst waiting there I saw a Monegasque met by not one, but two Maseratis. I wonder if he was an Icelander?

Skiing at Cauterets

Sorry for the layout of this Post. I tried writing text between the pictures, but for some reason it didn't work. The storm Xynthia in March which devastated some of the French coast and killed 27 people in France, as far as I can remember, also damaged and put out of action the ski resort at Hautacam where I had been taking my first halting steps in skiing. Actually halting wouldn't really have been a problem. If I had been able to halt more easily instead of careering almost out of control in places I hadn't meant to be, I should have been happier. Anyway with the devastation wrought at Hautacam (by the storm, not by me) I was obliged to loose myself onto the denizens of somewhere else, as it happened Cauterets.

I was a bit wary of Cauterets at first. The ski slopes cannot be seen from the village as access is by means of cable car. Not having seen the slopes, I wondered whether there would be anything easy enough for me to try. The only way to find out is to go, so I went. The cable car ride is an adventure in itself. The cabins launch out over the village rooftops and then swing up the hill. At the top of the first hill you see what you are in for - a swing over the trees, across a valley and then up the side of a very steep, very high mountain, you look ahead towards the peaks and aargh!, "We can't be going up there!", but we are, up to that little dot up on the horizon. I was lucky, there wasn't anyone else in the cabin to witness my gibbering. I was twice lucky because, before I bought my ticket, an old codger of my age who had just come down gave me his day's ski pass. The picture was actually taken on the way down, towards the bottom, and you can see Cauterets in the background.

Anyway, when I got to the top there is a large cafe terrace (2nd. picture) and some baby slopes nearby. The last picture is from the top of the baby slopes looking towards the cafe.

I went to Cauterets several times during the following weeks and slowly, very slowly, built up my confidence. On one of my last visits I noticed someone obviously very experienced flying down the slope at a helluva speed such that he managed to avoid all those in his path and coast uphill to the cafe. I was impressed. Later the same day I was on the longer slope and having managed a couple of half-decent (I thought) turns, I pointed downhill and found myself completely unable to stop. I flew down the slope at a helluva speed such that I managed avoid all those in my path and coast uphill to the cafe. Coincidence?

Tuesday, 4 May 2010


Or that might be "am bush". This is a photo taken some months ago. We detected unusual movement in one of our trees. Topaze and Arthur, our cats, had come up with a cunning plan. The idea was that they would both hide in a bird's nest up the tree with their mouths wide open and when the mother bird came back, they would close their mouths suddenly with the bird inside.

Unfortunately the plan did not work as:-

1) The birds didn't start nesting until some weeks later, and

2) They started to fight each other and had to come down as this nest wasn't big enough for both of them.